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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

On OTW and the Ensuing Debate on the Worth of Fanfic

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet




"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

On OTW and the Ensuing Debate on the Worth of Fanfic

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muses
For those of you who haven't heard, there's a new kid in Fandom Towne, the Organization for Transformative Works, or OTW. Of course, this begs the question of whether OTW is a good thing for us or a less-repulsive-but-still-dangerous version of something like FanLib: a group that aims to take the legitimacy of fanworks a step too far for most fans, who just want to be left alone to do what they do.

Of course, this means too that the same tired old arguments against fan fiction are being trotted out again. I've never been comfortable covering the legal ground because--comfortable as I am with the English language in all forms--legalese definitely intimidates me. I don't feel comfortable with deciding on legal arguments, and so I will leave these alone. However, there are issues that are more creative or ethical that I find interesting, as I see them time and time again, and it seems to me that they have easy answers ... but then, I'm very biased. Fan fiction is what brought me back to writing when I'd become disheartened to the point of making my best attempt at quitting; fan fiction has introduced me to friends that I hope I'll have for the rest of my life. It is hard for me to see past this, but I do welcome other views on where my counterarguments are flawed or short-sighted. I find that as writing about and studying Tolkien moves from a passing fancy to a hobby that I hope will be lifelong, then I want to understand this issue, and part of that involves understanding why what means so much to me makes me inherently unacceptable to many of my writing peers.

"Fanfic is for lazy writers. The original author has done all the work in creating the characters and the world, and the fanfic author is just piggybacking on his or her efforts."

This statement always reveals to me the naivete of the writer. Making the argument that writing a story is easy because it fits into an already-existing world or utilizes already-existing people/characters is like making the argument that stories that take place in our modern world or using real-life people (whether historical figures or characters based on people we know in real life) is necessarily easy.

In many cases, fanfic transcends what it portrayed in the source on which it is based. Of course, I belong to a very small and obscure fandom based on a work that is basically a thousands of years of history covered in a few hundred pages (The Silmarillion), so necessarily, Silm stories will introduce characters, cultures, and events that aren't in the original, but I have trouble imagining a fandom where this is not possible and, likely, widely practiced by authors who have been writing about a particular work for some time.

Furthermore, statements of this sort simply reek of snobbery. I am unpleasantly reminded of too many discussions in university writing classes where literary/mainstream authors would loudly declare the inherent inferiority of we lowly "genre" sorts. It's easy to look at the kind of writing that another person does--particularly when it isn't our cup of tea--and declare it easy as compared to our own particular flavor of fiction. Having written all, I can say that fantasy and horror are no easier--and are in many ways more difficult--than literary/mainstream. Fanfic is no easier--and, again, can be more difficult--than any of the above. While I can appreciate why readers might prefer one over the other--and who am I to argue with personal taste?--then I can't underscore enough that personal taste isn't reason enough to disparage the efforts an author puts into his or her writing.

"It's wrong to steal another author's characters and world."

I can understand authors' misgivings with seeing their characters and worlds written from other peoples' perspectives and, quite possibly, grievously misunderstood and misinterpretted. I remember back when my original fantasy universe was also being considered as the setting for an RPG, and one of my dearest online friends and I were doing a lot of RPing of my characters, many of whom I had "loaned" to her for RPing as we got things set up. In my original fantasyverse, my Elves are innately bisexual, and as she was writing one of my "teenage" Elves, then Talban's sexual awakening was often front and center. My friend couldn't understand why her horny teenager wouldn't lust after his gorgeous and liberated "uncle," who had raised Talban's father (but wasn't actually a blood relation), and I couldn't understand why she would even consider that sexual feelings could develop between two characters who were, in their own estimation, family. We both maintained good humor about the disagreement, but it did highlight to me the kneejerk "omg no!" reaction that an author might feel upon seeing her beloved characters written in a way that she never personally imagined.

At the same time, I do think that authors who share their writing with others need to come to terms that this will happen, whether fanfic is written or not. Readers are going to make any work their own as part of reading the story; no work that is shared remains 100% true to its author's vision. Face it, we can't let readers into our heads, and no amount of exposition will leave every single detail explored. There are a billion what-ifs that a lifetime of work won't answer (Tolkien being a prime example of this), and readers are bound to consider them. That they do is a compliment to the work: What writer wants a reader not to continue thinking about the work upon setting it down? Isn't that what makes a story irresistible, that one can't stop thinking about it?

Yes, I can hear fanfic's critics saying, readers will think of the story in ways that the author didn't necessarily anticipate. But there is a big difference between thinking about a story and writing stories based on it.

I argue that there's not too much difference, and I often can't believe that other writers--of all people--are unable to understand this. For me, thinking too much about anything translates into the urge to write it down and explore it via the written word; to me, that compulsion is the essential definition of being a writer. There is a continuum, and where do we draw the line? I read a book, and I love it. I think about it day and night. I mention it to a friend who has also read it, and we spend an afternoon talking about it. We spend an afternoon emailing about it. We spend an afternoon role-playing it. In email. I write my thoughts in an essay. I write my thoughts in a story that lives and dies on my harddrive. I write my thoughts in a story that I share with a few close friends. I write my thoughts in a story that I put on an exclusive password-locked website. I write my thoughts in a story and print it and distribute it at a convention. I write my thoughts in a story and put it up on a locked site that anyone can join. I write my thoughts in a story and put it up on the web for all to see. Where do we draw the line?

Is it the act of writing down my thoughts? (And how can writers possibly say this?) Is that only writing fiction, or does non-fiction count as well? Or is it simply sharing the ideas that the author probably didn't want me to have? Thinking them in the first place?

I'm sorry. If you don't want people to think, talk, and write about your story in ways that you didn't intend when writing it, then don't share the story. That seems pretty simple to me. The only way to keep your world, your characters, and your story "pure" is to keep it only in your head, where everything is always right. No, you don't have to agree or condone what your readers think, but if writers can't understand the human drive toward creativity and sharing that creativity even when they don't agree ... shame on you.

Also, I must admit that I find it dismaying that the standard example used to vilify fanfic is slash. I'm not attempting to engage in a debate about whether homosexuality is canon in any fandom, including my own. I'm talking about the idea that when people want a convenient example of repulsive or bad fanfic, slash is usually cited. One comment on Scalzi's blog even specifically mentions "icky slashfic." Why is slash any "ickier" than a sexual het story? Why is a Draco/Harry story "icky" while Hermione/Harry goes unremarked-upon? Homosexuality is clearly canon in Rowling's world, so I don't see how one AU is more reprehensible than the other. Yes, I know it's just another example of insidious homophobia even among people who claim to be open-minded about sexual preference, much like the suprisingly homophobic hullabaloo over Dumbledore's sexuality. At the same time, I think we need to be aware of these tendencies and to question them. If you think it's icky to write non-canon pairings, I may not agree, but for love of Elves, stop targeting only homosexual pairings.

(Also, I wonder if these (predominantly male) critics of slashfic would feel equally squicked by Luna/Hermione?)


"Fanfic is useless because one can't publish or make a profit on it."

In truth, I can stomach most arguments against fanfic, but this one positively makes my blood boil. Whether we like it or not, art in any form is not a lucrative venue, and few of us--even those of us with talent--will ever have hope to make a living on our writing. So what is the true worth of writing? The money that it earns or the joy, inspiration, and reflection that it generates?

No, few of us will ever see the first. But we all have the ability to generate the second; we all have the power to move an audience, to inspire someone to creativity or cause someone to think differently about something. How many people earning six-figure salaries can say that?

Fanfic may not make its writers any money, but there are fanfic stories that move and inspire more people than some of the trash being published that makes its authors a living.

This next argument, I don't think I can rephrase any better than the
original poster:

"The vast majority of fanfic is utter dreck. The same numbers also hold true for orginal stories and scripts, but at least there we’re spared having to see the worst of it by the publishing process. Thank God for editors and their colored pencils."

The idea that most fanfic is terrible or that most fanfic is adolescent/Mary-Sue or adult/PWP fantasies put to paper might well be true. In Silmfic, I don't think this is the case--a good number of the Silmfic authors I know could give many published fantasy writers a run for their money--but I'm aware that Silmfic is an odd fandom that attracts a certain type of masochistic fan. As for Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, television-based fandoms, and other popular fandoms, I cannot say. But let's assume that it's true.

You know what? It's true of all writing, whether "original" fantasy based on the most tired D&D cliches, the latest in literary navel-gazing, bodice-ripping romance, or fan fiction.

And you know what else? The "editors and their colored pencils" ceased to be a factor when the Internet became commonplace in most homes.

There are non-selective archives for original fiction. There's Fiction Press, fanfiction.net's o-fic cousin. There are free blogging/journal services. There's free webspace for rent at every corner of the Internet. There are mailing lists, writers' groups, forums, and workshops where one can make friends and promote his or her stories to an audience. Someone with a story to tell--no matter how crappy--no longer needs to brave the "publishing process" in order to get that story out to the world. As in the whole world. Not just the couple hundred subscribers to Bellybutton Lint Literary Journal. As in 1.2 billion (and growing!) Internet users worldwide.

And you know what? This is a good thing.

Yes, editors and publishers may "spare" our innocent, delicate eyes from having to see the "dreck" that the vast majority of writers want to show us. But they also discourage plenty of new writers with talent but not impressive resumes; they also prevent new ideas and styles from taking hold amid the old familiar standards. Publishing has its place. Heck, I love publishing my fiction; it's thrilling to see my work in print, and award-winning journals and magazines do provide a place for readers who want to find a story they're all but guaranteed to like. But that the Internet has given power to every writer with a connection to possibly reach an audience is wonderful also. I'm of the opinion that anything that gets people using their brains and their creativity is most likely a good thing.

"Fan fiction could lose money for the original creator(s)."

I always find this laughable because I have spent a profound amount of money on Tolkien's books and on products licensed by (and, therefore, financially beneficial) to the Tolkien Estate because of fan fiction and canon studies inspired by fan fiction. If I was a Tolkien fan who liked the books and didn't intend to write fan fiction and non-fiction about them, then I probably would have stopped pulling out my credit card at The Silmarillion. As it is, I've amassed more than a dozen books beyond that--including several books by Tolkien that have nothing to do with Middle-earth--because of my drive to understand this author, his world, and every aspect of it. There are few authors in the Silm fandom who are not guilty of buying books and products because of their fan fiction, and those who can't afford to often speak eagerly of the day when they can ... and will.

I can't speak for other fandoms, but I can't imagine that someone writing Heroes fanfic (for example) wouldn't first tune into every episode to keep abreast the canon and then buy the DVDs as a resource. For domains where I am a "normal" fan--someone who enjoys the book/movie/show but isn't particularly compelled to create based on it--my drive to buy is far less. I like the show Lost but don't own the DVDs and haven't even seen much beyond the halfway point of Season Two. I like Harry Potter and I do own all seven books, but I wouldn't buy the encyclopedia I hear HP fans muttering about, and I don't even think that I own a single one of the movies. HP fanfic writers, it's confession time: How much HP product do you own? I bet it's a whole lot more than "normal" fans (like me) do!

Then the argument surfaces that our stories detract from the audience for the original, which always puzzles me. Raise your hand if you've read a Silmarillion story without having read Tolkien. Or ... raise your hand if you've read a Harry Potter story without reading Harry Potter?

What fan activities of all sorts do is keep interest high in a particular product. They "hook" casual fans into becoming the rabid sorts of people that go into debt in order to get a hardcover set of the History of Middle-earth series. (*ahem*) They keep interest for an author and her works constantly buzzing among consumers with deep pockets where their favorite books (or movies or TV shows) are concerned.

Most industries would love the sorts of free promotions that fans routinely give to published works via fannish creativity. Other industries pay millions to drum up the same sort of enthusiasm for a product. It puzzles me that the publishing and entertainment industries haven't seized this promotional potential (though I think that many authors recognize this potential and are beginning to encourage it more as a result).

It puzzles me why anyone who claims to do something to make money would discourage activities that are encouraging people to spend more money on their products. (And having the gall to use financial loss as an excuse is even more ironic!)




This post is getting prohibitively long, and I'm putting off writing (fanfic, yes!) to keep adding more to it. I encourage discussion, always, and I would love to see your "favorite" arguments against fanfic (whether you like fanfic or not) that I have missed, any points that I may have missed for the above, and your own replies to the various concerns about fanfic.

On OTW, Bobby just asked me if I intend to get involved with it, and I don't know. The jury's still out. I like a lot of their ideas on paper, but I chronically have great paper-ideas that never manifest into reality, and I'd like to at least wait to see if the impetus that this group seems to possess will progress beyond the heady days of their debut. I'm a member now of their LJ community otw_news, and I'll be watching that space for progress and updates. The simple fact is that I doubt it will be a group that will provide an audience for my work that the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and other Tolkien-centric archives do not. I like the idea of a fan-studies journal and the legal research, and so if I do participate in and/or support the group, it will probably because of a belief in their mission rather than hopes for my own obscure fanfic.

Their most recent post contains links to the articles and blog posts that I used in compiling my own. Particularly, Scalzi's post has an enormous wealth of informative discussion going on in the comments; I only got to about the eightieth comment (out of, currently, 444) before calling it quits because of time constraints, certainly not a lack of interest.
  • Oi, this topic needs to be accompanied with a good drink. A lot of this reminds me of the morality questions of a while back. Knowing both sides, I have encountered more snobbish reaction from original fic writers than positive ones. Anyhow.

    "Fanfic is for lazy writers. The original author has done all the work in creating the characters and the world, and the fanfic author is just piggybacking on his or her efforts."

    Well fanfic writers write for a hobby and pleasure, usually that is done in a laid back manner, excuse me if it doesn't meet any literary standards. Still I beg to differ. For example, when you write a historical fantasy novel about the black knight (part of Arthurian myth), how lazy are you as an original fic writer to ride along existing knowledge of myths and fair tales? Aren't you being a lazy bum either? Where do you draw the line in being influenced by this or folklore or every day things? Especially in fantasy, there is a huge influence somewhere. Feist, Brooks, Eddings, and who more all have been labelled as copycats of Tolkien (Feist imho the most), so yeah. What makes a fanfic writer any different then? We are all influenced and I was once told by a writer to write fanfic to exercise, work on character development, styles, plot building. It is a sandbox and once we might feel brave enough to step outside it, we might indeed give others a run for the money.

    "It's wrong to steal another author's characters and world."

    I addressed this a while back in my own LJ how uncomfortable I feel to share any characters on which you are working, true. They are part of you, but once you have to let go. As hubby often says: once you make it public, it just becomes public property. Whether it is an image, vid, article, story ect ect. You can't blame people for embracing it. :) All you can hope for is that people have the decency to ask for permission or truly say that it isn't their creation. It becomes darker when people run off with your ideas and claim it as their own. I think a lot of fear and negative feelings come from that.

    "Fanfic is useless because one can't publish or make a profit on it."

    False, just think of Star Wars of Star Trek where people are being published or invited to come and write for the franchise.

    "The vast majority of fanfic is utter dreck. The same numbers also hold true for orginal stories and scripts, but at least there we’re spared having to see the worst of it by the publishing process. Thank God for editors and their colored pencils."


    Not everyone is a genius that writes a master novel with his or her first words. I would want to see the first works of every author who claims this. We all have to start somewhere and there is always the back-button. The fact that it is online, doesn't mean you have to read it.

    "Fan fiction could lose money for the original creator(s)."

    I beg to differ, the die-hard fans have and are still spending oodles of money on everything that the original creators make available. I mean I am a huge Marion Bradley fan and I have most of her works in paperback, hardback, Dutch or English. People who read a fic, might be inspired to finally get that DVD, book, calendar... Looking at fanlib, I think the industry is realising that there might be enough money in this.

    Honestly, I wonder what is wrong with allowing people to master writing skills this way. Doesn't history tell us that masters had apprentices and those apprentices were taught to copy they masters in detail in order to achieve the same level of skill? Who is to say that fanfic writers (the unseen apprentices of a master), cannot achieve the same? Why can't such a tradition (even though it isn't 100% compatible) not exist these days. Why is only complete perfection to be preferred? We all have to start somewhere, we all went to schools and were taught a trade.

    I'm talking about the idea that when people want a convenient example of repulsive or bad fanfic, slash is usually cited.

    This also has to do with the current attitude towards homosexuals, I think. For example with the Dumbledore is gay thing, nobody over here in my newsgroup for sf and fantasy thought it was something one should burn books for.
    • Where do you draw the line in being influenced by this or folklore or every day things?

      I think that this is a fantastic point. When I wrote the Green Knight story, for example ... is that fanfic or not? There was a bit of discussion about that when I first started posting it. I have Silmfic that is more original (plotwise) than the GKS, but I could feasibly publish the GKS. No one would look down on me for remixing a legend. Neil Gaiman has short stories in Fragile Things that are essentially Narnia fanfic ... but Neil Gaiman is Famous and Influential, and so no one puts him down for writing "fanfic."

      All literature seems to me to exist on a continuum. Nothing is truly original, and all borrow and steal from others to varying degrees. Where do we draw the line as to where this becomes "immoral"? Are people who write based on legends and myths "cheating" as fanficcers are accused of doing; is Neil Gaiman "immoral" for playing in Lewis's sandbox as well as his own? I think a better question is, why draw lines at all?

      It becomes darker when people run off with your ideas and claim it as their own.

      I think that's a different issue entirely, more along the lines of plagiarism than tranformative or derivative works. (And reading the conversation that mithluin shares below, at least one person compares fanfic to plagiarism. Ai yi yi ...)

      In my experience, fanficcers are obsessive about credit. No matter that every page on the SWG archive has a disclaimer, people insist on putting their own on stories. (Not that I have a problem with that ... ;) Or people will email me to ask to borrow tiny details from my Felakverse, which I find rather ironic: obviously, many of my details are borrowed from Tolkien! It'd be quite rich of me to say, no, you can't make Macalaure a terrible cook in your story! ;) Still, I appreciate the respect that they show in asking, even if I'd never be so haughty as to require or deny it.

      False, just think of Star Wars of Star Trek where people are being published or invited to come and write for the franchise.

      True ... but to me, the magic of fanfic is that you get to write stories without having the pressures that come with publishing. Yes, those pressures influence my o-fic, try as I might to prevent it. I do worry about markets; I am more likely to pursue or spend time on a story that I see as publishable. For fanfic, I write where the muses take me: for my pleasure and that of my audience. It's very liberating, and I wouldn't want to ever have to worry about publishing my fanfic. (Aside from the odd inclusion in fanzines, which--so far--have all been by invitation and so not really relevant at all.)
    • Overflow! *teeheehee* - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • I'd like to contribute another author's attitude to fanfiction - it repeats some of the misgivings and concerns you mentioned here, and some others that weren't pointed out in your entry (or not pointed out in that way). Still, be careful reading it - it does sound like dear Robin Hobb wrote this to provoke; if not, the attitude still is undeniably provocative, and at times downright ridiculous. The link also features an interesting commentary by a fanfic supporter. Here.

    More to come when I'm not as tired.

    Edited at 2007-12-16 09:39 pm (UTC)
    • Thank you! I'd read Hobb's commentary before but never the blog post with the rebuttal in it. Very nice!

      I think, having done a lot of reading and thinking since making this post, that the major divide between fanficcers and the anti-fanficcers is how we perceive "ownership"* of fictional creations. Are they owned by the public or does the creator retain all control of her creations?

      The latter simply does not make sense to me, as a reader who has entertained herself by imagining different scenarios set in her favorite stories since before she could even read.

      And the idea of owning an idea--fictional or not--is just scary. Need I fear being sued by the first person to publish a blog post like mine, outlining the benefits of fanfic, of which there are surely many, because I did not originate these ideas?

      Nothing creative is entirely original, and I find the attempt to draw lines between "inspiration" and "stealing" quite absurd.

      * Please note also that I am not talking about financial ownership, i.e. I write a novel and a dozen wannabes have the right to collect money on a dozen spoofs using my work. I am talking about creative ownership; I am quite adamant in supporting any artist's right to make money on her work, if she can. Our society seeks to suppress artist pursuits enough as it is without other artists contributing to that.
  • I can't understand what these people find so offensive about fan-fiction. After all, weren't the greatest stories traditionally retold and re-elaborated over and over by countless poets/bards/writers over the centuries each one making their own contribution? If you follow their reasoning Tolkien was copying the Kalevala (not to mention Joyce copying Homer, Cervantes, the novelas de caballería and so on). The argument about fan-fiction being useless because you can't make money off it and conversely that it steals money from the original creator is ridiculous. What is this? Private ownership of myths? If you don't make money out of it, you're wasting your time? And of course, a lot of it is dreck but I can choose what to read and how much dreck I want to put up with. In this particular fandom (I've never read anything besides Silmfics) the quality of most of the writing can compare to many published authors and win hands down.
    I love Rhapsody's icon. I think it's the best answer to the whole argument.
    • Exactly. As I said in reply to Elleth's comment above yours, "originality" is a myth. Creative output these days has all been done before, no matter how "original" it seems, or has been influenced and inspired by the works of other artists. You have Joyce's Ulysses--basically a fanfic of The Odyssey--or LotR, informed and inspired by the myths and languages that Tolkien spent his life studying.

      I wonder why some authors are so reluctant to have their characters, worlds, and stories classified as myths. To me, this would be a compliment. Or maybe they do truly believe that Joyce and Tolkien are immoral for giving the world beloved stories based on the work of others. But that seems terribly sad to me.
  • I am definitely going to be sucked into this one! But not today.

    Today, I am writing your gift story, Dawn. (Pimping off of Tolkien’s hard work, not getting paid for it and arguably it's execrably written too (one might even say “utter drek”—although you won’t, of course, because it is a Christmas present for you and includes some of your favorite characters)! And today, in writing this one, I’ve hardly touched my library of 40 or more volumes of Tolkien’s works, in various editions, and scholarly commentaries upon it (authorized by Tolkien’s estate, which is collecting a tidy little sum on this sort of thing from people just like me, I might add)!) ROTFLMAO!

    Edited at 2007-12-16 11:12 pm (UTC)
  • "Fanfic is for lazy writers. The original author has done all the work in creating the characters and the world, and the fanfic author is just piggybacking on his or her efforts."

    If that's true, why am I (one of the laziest writers around) almost totally unable to write fanfic, despite holding a friggin' creative writing degree? :P Believe me, from my experiences, attempting to write fanfiction is twice the work (at least) of attempting to write original fiction. Twice the research, twice the effort to develop the characters, and I imagine the critiquing process might easily be twice as frustrating, because the characters you're using are already beloved and people will take issue with your interpretation no matter what.

    Oh, and original characters and places and ideas are never created by fanfic writers for the sake of fanfic. And "original writers" never piggyback on ideas other people came up with long before they did. Nope.

    "The vast majority of fanfic is utter dreck. The same numbers also hold true for orginal stories and scripts, but at least there we’re spared having to see the worst of it by the publishing process. Thank God for editors and their colored pencils."

    *coughERAGONcough* (Oh wait, was Eragon supposed to be original? *snerk*) And yes, thank god for editors... when I'm paying between $5 and $50 to read something, because then it's not unreasonable for me to expect some standards for quality. When I'm reading for free, and don't feel that, "Somebody (me or not) paid for this, so I should really finish it even though I haven't liked it since I started it" issue, not to mention there are plenty of other stories I can read for free? Suddenly I don't feel so upset if I come across a story I think is sub-par.

    I did actually have to read about copyright issues in one of my library school classes--I'll have to go back and reread that lecture, because it did seem to put down fanfiction (saying it is illegal to make derivative works (except for spoofing and critiquing and stuff), no matter how much time and effort is spent or the fact that you don't make money from them), and that the whole "but it's advertising for the artist!" argument falls flat because "it is up to the artist to decide whether or how s/he gets advertisement." (Which admittedly makes me want to see some stores and authors and artists decide they don't want people advertising by talking about them, and suing whenever they read a blog with someone saying, "I just bought this thing, and it rules!")
    • I did actually have to read about copyright issues in one of my library school classes--I'll have to go back and reread that lecture, because it did seem to put down fanfiction (saying it is illegal to make derivative works (except for spoofing and critiquing and stuff), no matter how much time and effort is spent or the fact that you don't make money from them), and that the whole "but it's advertising for the artist!" argument falls flat because "it is up to the artist to decide whether or how s/he gets advertisement."

      I don't know who wrote that, but it isn't thought out well. It is the publisher who decides how much advertisement you get, not the author. There is a lot on which you loose control over once you sign that contract. For example not many have a say about covers. Once your manuscript is published, this part is being surrended to the publisher and that is where the big bucks start to talk.

      To cite from this article

      In addition to the problem of expanding length of copyright is the expanding scope of copyright. Since 1988, the US has come into compliance with an international copyright accord called the Berne Convention (originally created by Victor Hugo nearly 200 years before to push the US into paying him and other foreigners royalties for the US editions of their work). Berne prohibits "formalities," such as registration with the Library of Congress, for the securing of copyright. This means that today, nearly every single work is copyrighted at the very instant that it is "fixed" (recorded, written, filmed). So while before only a small class of commercial work was roped-off from social re-use by scholars, creators, audiences and educators, today, every single creation is owned by someone from the very instant that it is imagined, and will stay property for a minimum of 70 years and for as long as a century and a half, depending on the lifespan of the author. Meanwhile, most old works languish unloved and unregarded — the Supreme Court found in Eldred v. Ashcroft that some 98 percent of all copyrighted works are not in print or available.


      This is a dire circumstance. Copyright lasts, fundamentally, forever. It applies, fundamentally, to everything. And this is all happening at the moment when the net is giving more people the chance to communicate to more people in more ways than we ever imagined (and certainly in more ways than Congress imagined when it wrote and revised 17USC, the American copyright law).

      It would be nice if our lawmakers would go back to the drawing board and write a new copyright that made sense in the era of the Internet, but all efforts to "fix" copyright since the passage of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 have only made things worse, granting more unenforceable exclusive rights to an ever-increasing pool of "authors" who have no need or desire to sue the people with whom they are engaged in the business of "culture" — holding conversations, publicly re-imagining the stories that make up their lives.
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • Then the argument surfaces that our stories detract from the audience for the original, which always puzzles me. Raise your hand if you've read a Silmarillion story without having read Tolkien. Or ... raise your hand if you've read a Harry Potter story without reading Harry Potter?

    I cannot talk about HP and LOTR, since I am a rabid fan of both (more Tolkien, though); but I have read fanfics to shows and fandom's I don't know - and occasionally it sparked my interest enough to get deeper into knowing the fandom universe. That is the case with several Manga series, for example. It would be the case with certain shows. Fanfiction does not lose the author's or the Owners of the copyrighted content money. It keeps the interest up. Where would my fist fandom, Highlander, be by now without fanfiction keeping the interest up? And there, the owners did their level best to kill the show (and the movies) dead with their disregard of their own, previously established, canon and of any sense of storytelling and/ or logic. Still, if they would make a good enough new show, they would have an instant fanbase - because those fans kept their interest and passion for the fandom hot with fanfic.

    That said, I agree with all of your arguments. I am very wary of OTW, though. The problem is that the current tendency of legal development is going towards the restriction of Fair Use, and remixing of content, in hopes that that way, the users will be kept easily controllably consumers and the industry can enforce their wet dream of pay-per-view. They are trying this already for music and for pictures; and the first attempts are out there to do the same for written content. It does not help that every experience says that remixing of content, even file-sharing, does work the other way round and *generates* more consumers and audience who is willing to buy the original, instead of leaving it aside; even the file-sharing of music and the sharing of clips of copyrighted content without remix at Youtube tends to animate people to get the original if they like the clip, instead of being content with the poor-quality excerpt. The same is true for remixes.

    But the industry will not see that. And so, I have mixed feelings about OTW, because as necessary and good it is that they discuss those things... they are likely to lose. And if they lose and the whole thing will be settled by law clarification, it is most likely that it will be settled against us, not the other way round.

    And that would writing fanfic so much harder, albeit I hardly think that it would really stop it.

    Aislynn
    • I doubt that it would stop it either. It might drive it further underground: you'd have to have a password to access HASA and OSA and SWG. Or archives would move to mailing lists, like an e-version of how fanfic started back in the '70s. But I don't think it's going away.

      I don't know much at all about the legal arguments on art, whether writing, music, or visual, and sharing it online. It too worries me that industries will be able to buy louder voices than fans, and in the US anyway, we see in the last seven years just what money can buy. At the same time, I think that the confrontation on this matter is coming whether OTW exists or not. I mean, fanfic and vidding and fanart just aren't secrets anymore; I think it's kind of short-sighted to assume that if we all stay quiet and disorganized that those industries will leave us alone forever. So, in that way, OTW's legal research is a comfort to me. It is coming, and I'd sooner that a representative for our happy little subculture here be prepared to deal with it. :) I don't think that they're going to challenge the industries in any way but rather stand ready to defend fans, when inevitably the industries challenge us.

      Ai. It gives me a headache to consider living in a world where we can't share our feelings on art and writing and music without paying a fee to the company that "owns" that particular piece. I can say one thing, though, much as I love publishing my fiction, I won't publish with a company that does anything like that. I'll publish for free online before I do that and just keep working my day jobs forever. ;)
  • morelindo told me there's a law of online life that says as soon as she's offline for a few days there will be a kerfuffle or some kind of big discussion.

    ... wow ...

    Looks like she's right! ;-)

    Right now I can't say more than I love this post and I'll want to reply in depth. Probably on Tuesday. Thank you for your eloquent and interesting entry!
  • HP fanfic writers, it's confession time: How much HP product do you own? I bet it's a whole lot more than "normal" fans (like me) do!

    Actually...I've written a 50,000 word Snape back story that I've been told comes across as well researched, and I own less than you.

    I bought GoF in paperback, a friend gave me volumes 2 and 3 from library used book sales (ie, cheap secondhand copies), and my family purchased one copy of HBP and DH in hardcover new, to be shared amongst my siblings. I don't even have a copy of the first or fifth books - I've checked them out of the library a couple of times. We do not own any of the movies (on DVD or otherwise), and I can't think of any paraphenalia. I did, however, make great use of the Lexicon site while working on my opus ;).

    But then, I am not a consumer. I do own quite a few Tolkien books - mostly gifts. IIRC, the only one I actually bought myself, with my own money, was The Children of Hurin, and then only because I had a coupon when it came out. I have the movies on VHS (gifts, again), but not DVD.

    If I were to make a comparison...I am a fan of Star Wars, but have never felt the need to read or write fanfic for it. I have the original movies on DVD, a few posters, and some random paraphenalia like t-shirts and dust collectors. Most, but not all, are gifts.

    So, I do not think my fanfic involvement affects my level of consumerism much at all. If they're just worried about money, it's a non-event (for me).

    If, however, they feel that no one should get 'free' fans/readers for their stories by exploiting someone else's marketing...then I am guilty. People who would have no desire to read original work written by me will gladly read fanfic that utilizes beloved characters.

    Here is a discussion among Tolkien-fans about the evils of fanfic, related specifically to the HP fandom and the news that Dumbledore is gay.:







    • U: "At my writing group yesterday we discussed this, and the conversation turned to slash. Now I REALLY don't want to venture into HP fandom."
      D: "HP fandom is like any other fandom. Yep, there's slash. Yep, there's awful het stuff. And loads of really bad fic. You get that in LotR fandom too! And just like LotR fandom, there's also some really good stuff. I've read some really well written Snape fics set post DH. Personally I do find HP fandom a lot more unwieldy and intimidating, less friendly, than Tolkien fandom. But I have found some good fanfic."
      U: "Well, you can always go by the inevitable rule that is 90% of everything is crap, which is certainly going to apply itself to fanfiction. But in my personal experience, Harry Potter fanfiction is WAAAY creepier than LOTR fanfiction. This may simply be because of the underage nature of HP's main characters, many fics will have a very pedophilic feel to them. And it could be that HP is geared at a younger audience, so there is more immaturity in their fandom."
      Me:"The 'trash' isn't the sqickiness of the subject, so much as the skill of the writers. HP does attract a lot of young fans, let's be honest. And they aren't the ones writing stories about how Snape's detentions are opportunities to rape his students! They are writing very tiresome stuff that is bad in a different way. But yeah, 90% awful. Still leaves 10% that actually is an insightful exploration of JKR's characters and not just an excuse to write highly disturbing sexual scenes."
      U: "Back when I occasionally ventured into the fanfiction genre, I stumbled across numerous explicitly written fanfics that were also quite blatantly written by quite young authors. This was evident by their writing styles and their complete misunderstanding of what sex is, along with numerous other things. At any rate, I've long since given up on fanfiction, only venturing into it when someone has sporked a sufficiently awful one. So it may have gotten better since then, as Harry Potter fans have aged and (hopefully) matured."
      J: "Hey there, all - could somebody please enlighten me about the meaning of the word "slash" in the context of this thread? I'm clearly too old/square/just plain ignorant here... "
      Me: "'Slash' is the term for fanfiction that depicts two males in a sexual relationship. Starting with Kirk/Spock, as far as I know. The name comes from the "/" between the names. So, for this thread, it's Dumbledore/Grindelwald. It is (mostly) written by women, for women. It can be erotica, or it can focus on exploring the characters." (I had linked a non-explicit AD/GG story earlier in the thread)
      U: "Or it can be porn. Which, quite frankly, a lot of it is."
      R: "a word on fanfic. Some is very well written but most is cack."
      w: "On the subject of fanfic, I can only imagine the stories to come out of this insight into Dumbledore's sexuality. I have read enough fanfic to pretty much be wary of commiting too much time to it."
      Me: "Now that the canon stories are finished, [fanfic] is the only way to get 'more' of the story, which is why a lot of people go hunting for fanfic, anyway. I find that fanfic writers tend to be a lot more familiar with characters' motivations and hangups than average fans, because they are looking at the stories as authors, not just readers. It can add a new perspective. And if you are wary, you can avoid the smut. Almost all archives post clear warnings with ratings and any possibly objectionable material (from explicit sex to torture to character deaths)."
      W: "The fanfic with which I am familiar is Doctor Who: and 99% of that is just "death matches" between all of the assorted Dr. Who baddies!"
      U: "I suppose a few of them might, but the vast, vast majority of them care nothing about such frivolities like character motivations or accurately portraying them as real people, or even keeping them in line with canon."
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  • "Fan fiction could lose money for the original creator(s)."

    Oh, but this one is like totally true! I mean, for serious, how many people today have even heard of Saxo Grammaticus' Amleth? Instead all the money and glory went to that bloody plagiator Will Shakespeare and his AU of the story. If that isn't unfair, then I don't know what is.
    Even if the AU is better than the original, that's still no way of infringing on someone's copyright, is it? ;)

    *ducks under cover*

    I must admit that I've grown tired of the whole accusations against fanfic so early on that I can't be bothered even now to add to your list. (It's pretty comprehensive, anyway, so I'll just leave it at a "word!".) I just think it's sad that there's so much hatred from people who have little to do with the whole business (it's not all that often that I hear the actual writers complain, with the notable exception of Anne Rice; and some even invite fanfic, so what the hell?). If they don't like the stories, why do they look at them? Why can't they just ignore them instead of leading imaginary holy wars?
    *sighs*
    • I think it's like so many activities, particularly those of a rather geeky nature: "Look, there are people having fun! What are they doing? *observes* Well, I don't get why they're having fun with that. I'm not having fun with that, and I hate seeing people having fun that I'm not having. I feel left out. So I will belittle what they do in a vain attempt at proving that I Just Don't Get It because it's too stupid to get and maybe people will believe me, and maybe they'll see those people as freaks rather than people just having fun!"

      That a lot (dare I say "most"?) o-fic writers have probably at some dark point in their lives done something creatively fannish probably explains why most authors aren't the people who have problems with fanfic. I mean, all it takes is imagining a different ending or what it would be like to meet a favorite character ... write that down and they're a fanficcer! And I truly believe that it is human nature--or at the least, creative human nature--to assimilate stories in this way. I know that I wrote mental fanfic from the time I was old enough to form my likes and dislikes into words. Even if I'd never put my Silmfic onto paper, that inclination still would have been there. I'd just would have spent many more nights with insomnia than I did once I started getting those stories down. ;)
  • Hello Dawn,
    I read your essay with great interest. You made a lot of good points which I've felt also. As regards the publishers keeping us "safe" from bad fiction, I agree with you: "But they also discourage plenty of new writers with talent but not impressive resumes; they also prevent new ideas and styles from taking hold amid the old familiar standards." The publishing world is focussed on what sells, not on quality, as witness many things that ARE published. As a business, they are not usually willing to take risks on the untried. Getting into that club can be like beating your head against the wall. I think the equality of the internet has allowed many talented (and many not so talented but equally deserving of a voice) writers to practice their skills with a real audience.

    And yes, if I wasn't writing fanfic, I would not own a bunch of the HOME books, which are tedious in the extreme, or the Atlas of Middle Earth or a host of other reference books (btw, all by other authors making their money off the work of the original) or even probably the set of 5 Lost Tales, Lays of Beleriand, etc. So the Tolkien estate should have no fear that they've lost any money due to fanfic. (And while we're at it, let's talk about Peter Jackson's movies as a sort of ultimate fanfic - that also spawned a huge amount of revenue.)

    I must say, turning it around, I'm not sure how I'd feel as a writer if people took my original characters and played with them. When I first started writing fanfic, a friend asked me if he could borrow one of my OCs and I did not feel comfortable with it at all. Really, he was offering me the greatest compliment. Maybe now I'd feel differently. Perhaps if I was officially published and there was no question about who really created the characters, I wouldn't feel squicked about it. I do know there have been some wank-fests in fandom from people borrowing other people's original characters. And yes, that is a bit hypocritical. LOL. But certainly people shouldn't be making money on other's people's creations. That's where I draw the line. An artist should have the rights to their creative work, i.e. their intellectual property.

    Lots more thoughts about this, but like you I've got some writing to do. Can I friend you?
    • Hello, Elfscribe!

      The publishing world is focussed on what sells, not on quality, as witness many things that ARE published.

      Ugh. Tell me about it. I've read bestselling fantasy novels that are poorer quality than some of the fanfic I've read, and I've no doubt that some of my favorite fanficcers would make fine o-fic authors, better than most on the shelves.

      The thing that I don't think a lot of people realize is the amount of work it takes to publish o-fic. "Banging your head against the wall" is a good description, I think. :) And online publishing removes the prerequisite that authors be ambitious or even persevering, neither of wish is indicative of the quality of fiction one writers. (In fact, if one spends all her time researching markets as it seems some markets want to require, I would even wager that the opposite could be true! :)

      When I first started writing fanfic, a friend asked me if he could borrow one of my OCs and I did not feel comfortable with it at all. Really, he was offering me the greatest compliment. Maybe now I'd feel differently. Perhaps if I was officially published and there was no question about who really created the characters, I wouldn't feel squicked about it.

      I would never let someone "borrow" an original, non-fanfic character that hadn't been published yet. I hate to be so overprotective toward friends, but if that character showed up in a story that was even published online, as on fictionpress.com, then I would chance losing my first rights to use that character. That's just not a risk I'm willing to take.

      Now if people want to write based on published, stuff--or OCs from my fanfic--then I am perfectly okay with that.

      But certainly people shouldn't be making money on other's people's creations. That's where I draw the line.

      Me too. I figure that our society makes life hard enough for artists as it is. (I mean, why do some pro athletes make millions to do things just as "frivolous" as what we do, yet if a person writes or paints, then they're constantly accused of wasting his/her life? Nrgh.) Anyway, I don't think that we need to harm each other in addition to the automatic disadvantages that we are given!

      Lots more thoughts about this, but like you I've got some writing to do. Can I friend you?

      I would be honored! I hope that the writing goes well. :)
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